Winter’s Brightest Hollies — The Sequel (& Other Inspiring Stuff)

January 22, 2010 | By | Comments (5)

You’ve seen the sequels to “Rocky” (all 112 of them), “The Godfather,” “Star Wars,” and “Harry Potter.” Now for the most exciting sequel of all. (Excuse me while I lower my voice two octaves.)

“In a world torn by strife, disaster, and chaos, one plant rises above the destruction to bring hope and beauty to mankind — the deciduous holly.”

Earlier this week, I presented decorating ideas by Jon Carloftis for using deciduous hollies. Today, I’m going to tell you how to grow these native plants, how to tell them apart, and some other stuff.

The two main deciduous hollies Southerners (and everybody else) grow are winterberry (Ilex verticillata) and possumhaw (I. decidua). Both feature bare branches adorned with red. orange, or yellow berries in fall and winter. How do you know which is which? Easy.

1. Winterberry grows about 6-8 feet tall. Possumhaw grows twice that.

2. Winterberry has dark brown twigs. Possumhaw has silvery-gray ones.

3. Winterberry’s berries generally lose their luster by late January. Possumhaw’s berries last a month longer.

Growing these two is easy. For heavy crops of berries, plant in full sun. Possumhaw likes well-drained soil. Winterberry will grow in either well-drained or wet soil. Both produce berries only on female plants, so you need at least one male plant to pollinate up to 6 females (nice work if you can get it). Note that winterberry won’t pollinate possumhaw and vice-versa.

Which selections of each should you try? The Grump recommends these:

Winterberry — ‘Winter Red’ and ‘Winter Gold.’ Pollinate with the male ‘Southern Gentleman.’

Possumhaw — ‘Warren’s Red’ and ‘Byer’s Golden.’ Pollinate with male ‘Red Escort.’

Good mail-order sources for deciduous hollies are Woodlanders  and Forest Farm.

Four Monumental Questions That Affect All Life on Earth

The Grump once again demonstrates the boundless depths of his love and knowledge by answering four pertinent gardening questions sent in by loyal readers.

Sweating to the Moldies: I have a potted schefflera about 5 feet tall. It seems to sweat a clear, syrupy, sticky substance that drips on the floor. I’ve had it inside for the winter, but it did the same thing outside. Any advice? Mary

Answer: The “sweating” you describe is a sticky substance called honeydew that’s secreted by insects such as aphids, scales, and mealybugs that suck the sap. Black mold sometimes grows on this honeydew. These insects multiply quickly indoors and can ruin your plants. To control them, spray your plant according to label directions with a year-round horticultural oil, such as Oil-Away. Be sure to thoroughly wet all plant surfaces.




Now that’s one heavy scale!


KO rose1 Pruning Knockouts: My ‘Knockout’ roses got really big last year. Can I prune them severely- like down to about 12 to 18 inches? And can I do that now? Will they bloom like they did last summer? M.

Answer: Yes. Yes. Yes.

Roundup-Schmoundup: What’s the deal with Roundup? I buy it, I use it on weeds and grass to have them supposedly die, only to come back to life. I hate these chemicals. Is there an organic, Earth-friendly way to remove the weeds? GeorgeRoundup

Answer: Roundup is a non-selective herbicide that is very effective in killing a wide range of plants. But you have to apply it correctly. It is only absorbed by green tissue –leaves and stems — not by roots. It also needs to stay on these surfaces for at least 4 hours to be absorbed. Some plants with extensive root systems, such as big shrubs, need to be sprayed more than once. Also, Roundup works best when the plants are actively growing, not when they’re dormant. Roundup has no effect on seeds in the ground, so if you kill off the parent plant, its seedlings can still come up.

An organic alternative to Roundup is Weed-Aside Herbicidal Soap. However, it only kills the tops of weeds, not the roots. So what you could do is use it to kill the weeds to the ground, and then cover the bed with several inches of mulch to keep weeds from returning.

Crepe myrtle chainsaw massacre: I have three ‘Natchez’ crepe myrtles that are about 5 years old. When they were small, I was able to trim the new growth to shape them. But last year, they grew out of control and my husband took the chainsaw to them and cut them all the way back to the ground. This year, they grew back fast and are now tall and full. My question is: How can I make them look like the ones on your website — bare at the bottom and full at the top?

Answer: It’s easy. Just select 4 to 5 trunks to remain and cut off the others at the ground. Then remove all side branches from those trunks up to a height of at least 4 feet. Keep removing side branches up to this height every year and you’ll get ‘Natchez’ looking like it should.

Natchez bark

Another chainsaw victim saved!


  1. Gucci Orange

    Hi, after reading this remarkable article i am as well glad to share my experience here with colleagues.

    August 12, 2012 at 4:20 am
  2. Grumpy Gardener aka His Excellency

    Late winter (February) is an excellent time to prune.

    January 30, 2010 at 4:25 pm
  3. marie marvin

    I was woulding about Crepe-Myrtle. When is it the best time to tram them.

    January 30, 2010 at 9:50 am
  4. Emeily Martha


    January 23, 2010 at 1:34 am
  5. julianchandler

    Hear that noise? It’s the sound of hands clapping. Very informative and entertaining, as always.

    January 23, 2010 at 12:35 am

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